Harlem Mayor Scott Dean won the top prize among members of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce membership committee for recruiting over 30 percent of the businesses in Harlem for the chamber.
Harlem officials are anxiously awaiting final approval on plans to revitalize and update the city's downtown to attract more tourists, residents and businesses while at the same time preserving Harlem's past.
"(We want to) keep Harlem's integrity," Mayor Scott Dean said. "When it originated, Harlem was a thriving center of Columbia County at one time. Harlem used to be the mecca, the center of Columbia County (activity)."
More than four years have gone by since the city was awarded a $300,000 Transportation Enhancement grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation. On Tuesday, Harlem's City Council learned from the project manager that plans for the downtown enhancement had been finalized and would be forwarded that week to DOT for final approval.
The funds, matched by $60,000 from the city, are earmarked to renovate the city's four-block downtown area along Louisville Road from Forrest Street to Church Street.
"I am just glad the project is really happening," City Manager Jean Dove said. "I look forward to it starting and it ending. It is going to make quite a difference, a positive change."
Proposed improvements include widening traffic lanes to accommodate tractor trailers traveling through the city, an added paved parking lot to replace curbside parking spaces that will be removed, adding an overlay material to preserve existing sidewalks, and adding trash receptacles, benches, lampposts, trees and shrubs.
Crosswalks will be added near the city's library and community center. Several wheelchair ramps also will be added to the sidewalks, Dean said.
John McClellan, project manager and engineer at G. Ben Turnipseed Engineers in Martinez, has worked on several drafts of the project plans for nearly two years.
Planners hurried to secure rights of way and easements for the renovations, but it was the approval of a sprinkler system that held the project up several months, McClellan said.
With Georgia in a constant state of water conservation and new mandatory outdoor watering guidelines in effect, McClellan included a drip irrigation system for flower beds to the project plans. DOT officials, though, would not approve the system, even though city officials say it is more cost-effective and better conserves water.
"(DOT) has a 1996 checklist they are going by," McClellan said. "Even though drip irrigation puts water right at the roots, it was not allowed because it is not part of their checklist."
After a denied DOT variance, city officials conceded to a pop-up sprinkler system and sent the plans to DOT for final approval. Officials expect to hear back from the DOT in a month or two.
Once approved by the DOT, the project could go out for bids as early as mid-October, McClellan said.
Dean said he hopes to break ground by the end of the year.
"It's just another piece of the total city plan for the revitalization of downtown and the city itself," Dean said of the project.
The city has already refurbished and added onto its more than 100-year-old library, refurbished the Laurel and Hardy Museum of Harlem and created a Historic Preservation Commission to oversee the city's historic properties, which include the downtown area.
City officials are in the process of rewriting Harlem's planning and zoning ordinances and guidelines for historic properties, which Dean hopes will help manage the city's anticipated growth and keep it in line with the city's history and architecture.
"We want to maintain that hometown feel and arlem's) integrity," he said.
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